Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My fear of not running

While I’ve been in recovery mode these last couple of weeks, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the question of why it’s so hard for (some) runners, myself included, to take a break from running. What are we afraid will happen if we slow down for a spell? I’m convinced that any runner that’s been at it for a while is well versed in the benefits of recovery and rest. They’ve either heard about the wonders of rest from friends, books or magazines, or they’ve learned it the hard way by pushing themselves so hard without a break that they became injured or sick and were forced to take a break.

I can only answer this question for myself, but this week, I think I uncovered the origin of my fear. I’m afraid that if I stop working hard, I will fill my time with stuff that doesn’t require nearly as much pain and effort and I won’t want to run ever again. While I’m afraid that I might get injured if I push myself too hard, I’m equally afraid that I will become lethargic and unmotivated if I let myself slack off for too long. Let me assure you that this is a rational fear. Running is the one sport/activity that I’ve done consistently and for a long enough period of time to actually become good at.

I have dabbled in an assortment of activities in my lifetime (golf, gymnastics, cycling, softball, knitting, guitar, cello, violin, singing, yodeling, sewing, painting, candle making, carpentry, and on and on) and have been able to get by with a certain amount of proficiency with each one. The common denominator with all of them has always been this: I throw myself into the activity at the onset until I become ‘good enough’ at it, then when the hard work starts producing fewer and fewer results, I drop the activity like a maggot-infested carcass. With running I seem to have broken this pattern. Maybe I’ve not yet hit that feeling of being good enough or the return on investment has remained high enough to keep me hooked. Regardless, the fear of not running remains.

This week, I have learned that I do a fine job filling the time that would have been spent running or rolling out the kinks in my legs or doing strength training. I’m getting projects done around the house, knitting a hat for the Genius for Christmas, sleeping more, eating more, drinking more, getting caught up on Project Runway and Dexter. It’s really relaxing, and I think I’m starting to like it a little too much!

Just when I was contemplating becoming a slacker full time, my new plan kicked my training up a notch. Today, I had my first “hard” workout post marathons and I was very pleased with how it went. The first one out of the chute is always a bit unnerving for me. Just a few weeks ago, I was the fittest I have ever been in my life. So, as usual, I'm having a hard time facing the fact that I won’t be able to maintain the same training paces I was running pre-Twin Cities in my upcoming workouts. Instead of just rolling with the workout, taking whatever my body has to give, I fret about it. And, the escalation of self-doubt begins with wondering what pace I’ll be able to hold for my tempo-paced effort. This is followed closely by: how fast should I run 5k effort? How should I feel running at these efforts? Will I ever be able to run these workouts as fast as I did in the last training cycle? Am I over the hill as a runner? These are all great questions to stress out about for hours. Okay, maybe not hours. I’m being dramatic, but I stress for numerous minutes at least.

My run today was a total of only 10 miles, but it was packed to the gills with quality. After a brief warm up, I had a 15-minute foray into the lactate threshold (tempo) effort zone. I was able to maintain 6:02 pace for the full 15 minutes without stopping. While it seems ridiculous for ‘not stopping’ to be my benchmark since I should be well within myself running at lactate threshold (LT) effort for 2.5 miles, I always have a bit of a problem keeping myself at LT effort rather than pace.

I looked back at one of my blogs from the beginning of my last training cycle and saw that my first LT-paced workouts were disasters. Last May, I blew up at 6:07 pace, having to stop three times during a 25-minute LT effort interval. In the next hard workout of that cycle, less than a week later, I slowed down the pace a bit and was able to run at 6:11 pace for 15 minutes without stopping. So, 6:02 pace for 15 minutes without stopping is an improvement for me. Was I running at LT effort? Well, let’s not go there right now.

After a 5-minute jog, I then launched into 12 x 1 minute intervals @ 5k effort with 1 minute jog rests. I ran these comfortably between 5:20-5:45, with most under 5:30 pace. In this portion of the workout, I decided I would start trying to convince myself, by thinking happy thoughts, that I like the feeling of running at 5k effort. The record I’ve been playing in my runner’s head since I started running 5 years ago is entitled I hate the 5k. I don’t hate the 5k. I LOVE the 5k. Well, I will learn to LOVE the 5k. I’m convinced it’s all in my mind, and I will overcome it. I am also going to work on loving hills. I LOVE running 8 miles up a hill at LT effort. I will become good at hills. Yes, I will. Hill. Bill. Dill. Pickle. Wow, I really want a pickle right now. See how that works? Mind over matter.

I am off to a good start with my training. Now, I just need to figure out when to begin my higher-fat food and alcohol taper in preparation for the next phase of hard work. I have not been tracking my diet or weight for the last month but realize I need to get back into the habit to keep myself honest. Maybe I’ll start after Thanksgiving. Oh, how I do love my pumpkin pie.


  1. As I've sat on my ass for the past couple of days getting over a minor injury, you managed to put your finger on the source of my mounting anxiety, which I couldn't pinpoint. Thank you.

    I don't know if it's necessary to learn to love the 5K if you're a marathoner. But I know what you're saying. I hate the 5K too.

    On the other hand, I also used to dread tempo runs and now I actually enjoy them and have been bugging my coach to assign longer tempo sessions. Maybe there's hope for me with the 5K yet.

    Enjoy the downtime and the pie. You'll be hitting those hard workouts and getting faster soon enough.

  2. Yeah, I think you are spot on! I've dropped a lot of less painful, less time consuming hobbies over time.

    I started following your blog after MCM, and really enjoy reading :)